Saturday, February 27, 2016

Apologetic Method Matters

I recently joined Christian Apologetics Alliance (CAA) over on FB. It is a very interesting site with lots of interesting subjects, personalities, and apologetic methods. You may talk about all sorts of claims in the group. You may claim that Bayesian Probability Theorem is a good tool for defending the resurrection of Jesus Christ. You are allowed talk about how we can believe the Bible is reliable because of all the external historical evidence in its favor, not to mention its logical coherence. You may even affirm that man is the ultimate starting point for human prediction. You are permitted to pontificate for pages on the merits of Molinism and the brilliance of William Lane Craig. You can even submit the supernatural, infinite claims of Scripture to the finite, fallen, sinful, ignorant intellects of human reasons and everyone approves and applauds.

While you may be permitted to talk about everything under the sun at CAA, there is one thing you cannot talk about at CAA: You cannot talk about dead-end topics. And specifically, you cannot talk about apologetic method. So here is the question: is there any link between apologetic method and Biblical Christianity? Moreover, is there a link between Christian philosophy and Christian apologetic method? By Christian philosophy, I mean sound philosophy that is the product of Christian belief. Sound philosophy is exclusively, philosophy that is derived from Christian theology, and biblical exegesis. That is to say, sound philosophy is that philosophy which articulates and affirms a worldview that is derived from a proper interpretation of the divine revelation of Scripture.

Now, apologetic method is not an island unto itself. Apologetic method is supposed to defend a very specific set of beliefs. I refer to this set of beliefs as Christian belief. If Christian apologetics is aimed at defending Christian belief, then it only stands to reason that just any method will not do. The reason we cannot choose apologetic method like we choose hats is precisely because apologetic method is set to defend an entire worldview. Hence, since apologetic method is interested in defending an entire worldview, it is only logical that apologetic method itself must be informed by the worldview it seeks to defend. Otherwise we may be accused of being inconsistent and worse, unable to defend the worldview upon which our apologetic method is supposed to rest. You see, when your apologetic method departs or strays from your philosophy at any point, the reasons are few. You may be lacking in skill. You may not understand apologetics or philosophy or both. In many cases, however, when apologetic method displays an inconsistency with the philosophy it is supposed to defend, it is because the philosophy is indefensible. In that case, the philosophy in question will eventually reduce to absurdity, and hence, irrational. I am going to take one argument from the CAA page, and demonstrate my point.

Click this link to watch Calum Miller’s short ~18-minute presentation on “Probability and the Resurrection” workshop. Miller claims that the Baysian Probability is an excellent tool for the defense of the proposition that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. No conscientious apologist could ever allow such a claim stand without scrutiny. Method matters.

It is claimed that Baysian confirmation theory is the most influential attempt in the logical positivist tradition to provide a uniform, general account of scientific knowledge. Bayes theorem seeks to understand the probability of a hypothesis or theory given the evidence at hand and our background knowledge of the world. 

The question is asked, how probable is the resurrection of Jesus Christ given the evidence we have and our background knowledge of things like resurrections? Before I say anything about whether or not such an approach to the resurrection event adds any value to the conversation, I have to ask if the sort of knowledge we are talking about is the kind of knowledge to which Bayes’ theorem applies. When Christian belief claims that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, should its claim be understood as saying that the hearers of that message should believe that it is probably true that Jesus rose from the dead? To be very clear about this event, here is what Paul said the resurrection meant to the entire system of Christianity: and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. (1 Cor. 15:17) Not for nothing, but it doesn’t sound like Paul would entertain, even for a second, the slightest possibility that Christ did not raise from the dead. Greg Bahnsen wrote, “However, a serious difficulty arises when the epistemological significance of the resurrection is separated from its soteriological function.” The most striking evidence that Jesus rose from the dead is witnessed by Christian through the work of the Holy Spirit as He appropriates the work of that resurrection on the heart of the individual. There is no greater evidence for the resurrection of Christ for the Christian that the Holy Spirit witnessing to this revealed fact as He applies the Word of God to the human heart. Faith knows that Christ rose from the dead.

To begin with, to find Bayes’ theorem useful in defending the resurrection of Christ demonstrates that the apologist is not yet submitting his mind to the Lordship of Christ. The manner in which I interpret the evidence and how the unbeliever approaches the evidence for the resurrection is remarkable different. Bayes’ theorem requires neutral ground in human reasoning. And the problem with that is that the unregenerate mind is anything but neutral where spiritual matters are concerned. Without this neutrality, the theorem is useless. And to pretend there is such a neutrality, the Christian apologist must ignore Scripture’s denial of it.

A second problem is that the miracle of the resurrection depends upon the presupposition of the uniformity of nature. But an honest skeptic will reject the principle of uniformity. And when he does, the resurrection is no longer a miracle. It is just something that happened. This means that in order for BT to have any strength, the Christian paradigm must already be presupposed. This also applies to the idea that one must believe in the possibility of miracles from the start. If they do not, it naturally follows that any explanation, no matter how small, has a greater probability for explaining the resurrection event than the evidence presented by the evidential apologist.

A third problem, and one that is philosophical in nature, is the assigning of numbers to the probability of the resurrection. One has to ask the question if Bayes' Theorem can be applied to a one-time event like the resurrection of the God-man. There seems to be no plausible way for one to come up with a way to assign numbers to the evidence and then defend those numbers against accusation of a subjective arbitrariness. And if we cannot agree on how numbers ought to be assigned, BT seems to me to rather a waste of time in the apologetic project. Moreover, even if we could assign numbers, we would then be left defending the method and theory for why we used this or that criteria as opposed to another. The problem seems unfeasible. 

Finally, the objection of the unregenerate mind is not just epistemic. It isn’t even primarily epistemic. It is first and foremost, metaphysical. And that is seen in the fact that the objection to the resurrection is moral. Man’s mind is wicked. It is corrupted by sin, desires sin, loves darkness rather than light, and hates God. That is the straight truth where the minds of sinful men are concerned.

In conclusion, apologetic method matters. If you pretend that the minds of men have not been corrupted by sin, you are essentially pretending that Christian belief is false. If your apologetic method depends upon the neutrality of the human intellect when it comes to truth claims, and especially the truths of Christianity, then you must deny the doctrine of original sin and human depravity. You must surely deny total depravity. You must affirm that man can operate intellectually without any dependence on God whatsoever. You must reject the Bible’s description of the sinful intellect as: “futility of their mind, darkened in their understanding, ignorant, blind, hardness of heart, callous.” And if that is true, then Christian theism is denied. If the Christian apologist is not careful, by adopting just any apologetic method, he could place himself in the position of actually denying the very philosophy is claims to defend. That is why apologetic method matters. The forum over at CAA could not be more wrong in its desire to maintain neutrality in apologetic method, calling it a dead-end subject. Nothing could more important that constructing a defense of Christian philosophy that is itself a derivative of the very system it seeks to defend. I will hold out hope that over time, things will change for the better.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Christian Belief: Justification, Rationality, and Warrant – Part II

In my last post I pointed out that Christian belief comes from the instigation of the Holy Spirit, rather than from unaided human reason. In this post, I am going to focus a little more attention on what I mean by the terms justification, rationality, and warrant as they are used in Christian apologetics. If you are new to this sort of study, all I can do is encourage you to stay with it. You will run across several terms and concepts that will seem confusing at first but I promise you that if you will stay with, refuse to give up, eventually, the lights bulbs will start becoming brighter and brighter.

I said in my last post that Christians will generally encounter two types of objections to Christian belief. The first kind is called de jure objections. This kind of objection argues that Christian belief is not warranted because there is something defective in it. Christian belief is irrational, or those who hold Christian beliefs are operating with deficient cognitive faculties. The second kind of objection is called de facto objections. This kind of objection argues that Christian belief is false. There is something factually wrong about the claims of Christian belief. A Christian should become familiar with both types of objections, and with the most common characteristics in both kinds of objections. In this post, I am dealing specifically with de jure objections; the claim that something is irrational, or unjustified in Christian belief. This raises the question around the meaning of the terms justified, rationality, and warrant. Moreover, how does a belief qualify for such a status? I will offer some basic definitions for these terms and then proceed to talk about the differences between how pagan philosophers thinks about these concepts and how Christians ought to think about them.

Some may argue that I ought not call pagan philosophers, pagan philosophers because it is insulting to philosophers everywhere. For the record, I am not interested in flattering men who hate God and do all they can to destroy belief in Him. I will call them what Scripture calls them and not apologize for it. I am interested in the truth, not in making sure as few a people as possible are not offended by it. I do not mean to be disrespectful for the sake of being disrespectful. If a pagan philosopher does not want to be called a pagan philosopher, then they should submit to Christ and become a Christian philosopher.

Now, let’s begin with the term justification. For starters, I am not going to get into the technical details around this term and bore you with issues like the Gettier problem (trust me, you don’t want to know). I am only going to deal with the basics. In philosophy, we would say that a person is justified in holding a belief if the belief is true, and that they have done their due diligence in what is intellectually obligatory to hold the belief in question. For instance, they have done their duty in examining the belief and have concluded it is true. Note that justification only applies to beliefs that are not basic in nature. A basic belief is a belief that does not require justification because it is self-evidently true. For instance, 2 + 2 = 4 is immediately self-evident. It requires no justification. The belief that a proposition cannot be both true and false at the same time and in the same sense is a belief that is self-justifying: we call it the law of non-contradiction. But any belief that is held on the basis of other propositions or beliefs, is not a basic belief, and requires justification. We then ask the question, does the Christian need to justify his belief in God, in Christ, in Scripture? In order to answer that question, we ask if the belief in God, in Christ, and in Scripture is occasioned by other propositions or beliefs? And I have already argued that Christian belief arises from the instigation of the Holy Spirit in the human heart/mind. Since Christian belief arises from the regenerative work of the Holy Spirit, it is not based on another belief, and it is also not held on the basis of other propositions. From this one must conclude therefore, that a right understanding of Christian belief is that it is basic.

Another word often used to describe a belief is rational. Is Christian belief rational? Rationality goes to the question of whether or not Christian belief involves either, inconsistency or outright contradictions. For example, it is argued that Christian belief holds that God and evil both exist in the same world and at the same time, and such a belief is logically contradictory. Therefore, as far as they are concerned, Christian belief should be rejected on the ground that it violates the laws of logic. This is just one example of many used to claim that Christian belief is irrational.

Finally, we come to the word that Alvin Plantinga uses to define whether or not someone is in possession of true knowledge: warrant. A belief is warranted, according to Plantinga, if it is produced by our faculties functioning as they are designed to function (aiming for truth), within the right sort of cognitive environment, and we have good reason for holding a belief. Now, this definition of warrant only gets one to a high probability that the belief in question is actually true. Plantinga thinks this is sufficient for knowledge. Under this definition of knowledge, we ask the Christian, “Is Christian belief warranted?” and the answer is, yes it is! However, I should point out that it is my contention that the degree of warrant enjoyed by Christian belief comes in the highest possible degree.
Either Christian belief is basic or it is not basic. Either Christian belief is grounded in other beliefs that are eventually basic or it is not. Of course I am ruling out any coherentist view of truth in the philosophical sense. For purposes of this post, I will resist to urge to chase this rabbit. The question at hand concerns how Christian belief translates into genuinely true knowledge. How does Christian belief attain warrant?

Christian belief arises from faith. Christian belief does not arise from empirical evidence, or from rational arguments. Christian belief does is not produced by a series of logical syllogisms. Christian belief is the product of faith, this faith itself being the gift of the Holy Spirit, imparted to every Christian upon their new birth, their regeneration which effectively results in their conversion to Christianity. Genuine Christian belief then is occasioned by a supernatural work of God in the human person. The cognitive faculties of human beings, in the spiritual environment, do not and cannot function properly. Even though men’s knowledge of God via the sensus divinitatis is present and efficacious for its purpose, that knowledge is subjected to a perversion because of the curse. We call this the noetic effects of sin. For the unbeliever then, if they were to embrace some of these similar beliefs that we are calling Christian belief, they would be unable to ground those beliefs in such a way as to attain warrant for them. In other words, Christian belief so-called, is unwarranted and unwarrantable, unless it arises within the proper environment. And the only environment capable of producing genuine Christian belief is the miraculous environment of regeneration. Faith is a cognitive activity. Calvin wrote, True faith is not only a certain knowledge, whereby I hold for truth all that God has revealed to us in his word, but also an assured confidence, which the Holy Ghost works by the gospel in my heart; that not only to others, but to me also, remission of sin, everlasting righteousness and salvation, are freely given by God, merely of grace, only for the sake of Christ’s merits.

In summary, I would say, with Plantinga,
  1. When beliefs are accepted by faith and result from the internal instigation of the Holy Spirit, they are produced by cognitive processes working properly.
  2. The environment in which we find ourselves is precisely the cognitive environment for which this process is designed.
  3. The process is designed to produce true beliefs.
  4. The beliefs it produces, belief in the great things of the gospel, are in fact true.
Faith, then, is a reliable belief-producing process.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Christian Belief: Justification, Rationality, and Warrant

From Thales to Socrates to Plato to Aristotle to Epicurus to Descartes to Kant to the Enlightenment, philosophers have been attempting to construct a view of the world that satisfies man’s insatiable appetite for understanding both, who we are, and what this state of affairs in which we find ourselves, is exactly. Indeed, these philosophers have produce more intellectual fodder than one can possible keep track of. As one might expect, Christians have been exposed to these diverse philosophies as well. This exposure has produced some good results but it has also had devastating consequences in numerous areas of Christian belief and praxis. You see, these philosophies have been, for the most part, entirely pagan, attempting to arrive at an answer to the question of our world apart from, without relying on, God for their answer. And this is exactly the sort of influence that the Christian must guard against according to the apostle Paul: “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.” (Col. 2:8)

Recently, I told a young man studying philosophy at a local seminary that the basis of Christian belief is not philosophical arguments, or historical evidence. He was stunned and I was stunned that he was stunned. We both were stunned. He wanted to know what the basis of Christian belief is if it is not those things. So the point of this post that I want you to get if you get nothing else is this: the basis for Christian belief, what makes it justified, rational, and warranted, in essence, what makes it real knowledge, is the revelation of the Christ event in Scripture. And make no mistake about it, the entire corpus of Scripture is pointing us to the Christian event. If that is not what makes Christian belief justified for you, rational for you, warranted for you, knowledge for you, then there is nothing Christian about your Christian belief. Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle cannot lay the foundation for Christian belief. They were not capable of providing such a foundation for something so majestic, so spectacular, and to be clear, so supernatural. Christianity is a supernatural belief, a transcendent reality, and only a supernatural foundation can serve as the foundation for such a thing as Christianity. This means that a supernatural experience is required in order to impart the sort of knowledge necessary if Christian belief is going to be justified, rational, and warranted.

Cornelius Van Til writes, “From these considerations, it follows that if we develop our reasons for believing that a true knowledge of God and, therefore, also of the world, is possible because actually given in Christ, we have in fact given what goes in philosophy under the name of epistemology.” [Survey of Christian Epistemology] The basis of Christian belief is the Christ event that is Christian Scripture. If the basis of Christian belief is something other than Scripture alone, then that Christian belief is not a belief that is Christian. Rather, it is a belief that is formed within the presuppositions of pagan philosophy. And pagan philosophy, at its core, is antithetical to Christian belief. Pagan philosophy rests on a foundation that is hostile to Christian belief. In fact, pagan philosophy, by nature is antithetical to Christian belief. The apostle Paul tells us that pagan philosophy is on par with “empty deception,” and is according to the tradition or standards of men, rather than according to, or in accord with Christ. Christian apologists in modern Western Christianity have to a large degree uncritically accepted the wisdom and philosophy of men like Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates. And this explains why, when someone says to them that the basis of Christian faith is not rational arguments, they are stunned. They spend hours studying pagan philosophy and minutes reading Paul. This trend is deeply disturbing because these men are filling our churches, becoming pastors, youth leaders, and Sunday school teaches and they are passing on their unbiblical methods to unsuspecting and poorly equipped Christians.

So what is a Christian to do when someone challenges your beliefs? There are two types of challenges you should prepare for: 1) De jure challenges the rationality of Christian belief while 2) De facto challenges the facts of Christian belief. I am dealing with the former challenge that says, in general, that something is basically wrong with Christian belief. The claim is that Christian belief is irrational or not justified. There is apparently not enough evidence to not a good argument for Christian belief. How does the Christian prepare to deal with such a challenge? Let me say for starters that you do not run out and study The Organon in hopes that this will help you. It will not. What then is the Christian to do? You are to stay true to your belief and here is how you do just that.
First, you must remember what produces Christian belief in the human person to begin with. Christian belief is not produced by unaided human reason upon reflection about the events of Scripture. And He was saying, “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.” (Jn. 6:65)           Jesus answered them, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted.” (Matt. 13:11) I could produce dozens of places in Scripture that testify to this truth: Christian belief is granted to those whom God regenerates and to no one else. Christian belief is for the Christian, basic. To say that a belief is basic is to say that it is not believed based on some other proposition or belief. It is self-evident. This is why Christian theism holds that Christian Scripture is self-justifying. We do not believe the Bible is “God speaking” based on an argument but rather based on the inward testimony and the Holy Spirit we know it immediately.

Alvin Plantinga says it well when he writes,
The deliverances of the sensus divinitatis are occasioned by the circumstances; they are not conclusions from them. It does not work by way of an argument. My apprehension and experience of the beauty of nature of the moral guilt involved in the conscience are not evidences for God. It is that I simply find myself with the belief that God is disapproving of my behavior. It is in that circumstance that my belief arises, or better, is revealed, uncovered, becomes obvious.”
The ability that a Christian has to form Christian belief is not the product of natural cognitive processes. Those processes are held in bondage to the curse of sin. Man cannot and is not willing to see the truth of Christian belief so long as he is dead in his trespasses and sins. It is only when the Holy Spirit comes rushing in to instigate a rebirth that our cognitive processes are now able to see and know the Christ who died for us properly. And this belief arises immediately, not because someone made a great argument or preached a wonderful sermon but because God has called that sinner out of darkness into His glorious light, into His kingdom, indeed, into His family.

We should not worry that the unbeliever is going to object to our model. He has his own model and that model comes with its own set of presuppositions and standards. This is not to say that we have an equal stand-off with the Christian having his system and the unbeliever his own. The Christian can and should demonstrate to the unbeliever how, on his own principles and presuppositions, his system, when all is said and done, is reduced to skepticism or irrationalism. But that is not the purpose of this post. The purpose of this post is to remind the Christian what is the basis for Christian belief. It is the Christ event that is Scripture. We know this because God the Holy Spirit regenerates our heart and mind, making it known to us. Otherwise, we would never know that Christian belief is true knowledge. We do not examine evidence and study argues and from these things infer God. It is in within the circumstances of regeneration that Christian belief arises in the heart by the sole work of the Holy Spirit. From that circumstance we know immediate that all that the Scripture testifies about is true. After all, the Spirit of God, God Himself, witnesses to the things that are in His own word. What greater argument or evidence could anyone ever present than the testimony of God?

Christian belief then is formed in the heart by the Holy Spirit as He works the miracle of regeneration within God’s elect. As a result, our cognitive faculties are delivered from the bondage of sin, and regenerated so that now we can receive instruction, think correctly, understand, and know the things which God has prepared for us. It is impossible for the Christian to explain this in such a way that an unbeliever will not object to it. Because the experience transcends human reason, the unbeliever, so long as they are an unbeliever will reject this model. Some will give it lip service, but in their heart they will not receive it because only God can make them capable of receiving it.

In the end, the Christian has to be concerned, not with the unbeliever’s de jure objections, but rather with being faithful to the gospel, to basic Christian theology. It isn’t the reaction of the world that should shape how we deliver the truth or how we defend the faith. Our primary concern has to be what says the Scripture. God regenerates through the foolishness of preaching. Unless we keep this ever before us, we will always find the seductive methods of pagan philosophy irresistible because of how they are received and how that reception makes us feel about ourselves.